In the Amber books, there are two true worlds (Amber and the Courts of Chaos) between which exist Shadow worlds (including Earth), like “shadows” or altered versions of the two true worlds. Amber and Chaos, the extreme ends of the Shadow, constantly fight for domination of these parallel or shadow worlds, which differ from Shadow to Shadow in small (only a few points in history are divergent) to enormous ways (like green skies). Certain people born in Amber or Chaos can manipulate or travel their way through the Shadow and the worlds that exist there. I always loved envisioning the kind of bit-by-bit morphing reality taking shape around me as I traveled with them.
A big part of the Amber-verse is that those living in the shadow worlds don’t know their world is only a shadow between the two true worlds. They think their world is the only reality. I understand better the Amber-verse when I think of it next to Plato’s classic Allegory of the Cave, where people perceive reality to be the shadows they see on the walls of the cave in which they live. But they are really only seeing shadows on the wall cast by the true reality outside the cave. They lived deceived—as do the inhabitants of Amber-verse shadow worlds.
Lately, I’ve found Zelazny’s Amber-verse a helpful image in articulating my experience in following Jesus: It’s as if I’ve been un-deceived and I’m walking towards a real or true view of reality, a seeing of how things really are—the way God sees them, which is the truest way as he created it all to begin with.
But it takes awhile. Heh, in my more naïve days I used to think I’d arrived at the “true world”—that I could see pretty much the way God did—but eventually (by grace) I realized that this journey will be a lifelong one. I’m like the dazed ones that first walk out of Plato’s cave. As long as I’m living here-and-now, God will always be pulling scales off my eyes, wax from my ears and stone from my heart.
Yet—one of the true wonders—deep within, where God’s Spirit has made me new and un-broken, I already live and breathe in that “true world.” I am in the Kingdom, full and all and complete. As I walk with Jesus, I’m learning to live and see in that Kingdom even when what I make out around me tells me I’m not. The “true world” is here-and-now, I just can’t see it all right or clear. Unlike the characters of Amber, my journey is less towards a place than a way of seeing—a vision that will one day be as pure, right, sharp and clear as the Spirit that lives in me.
Sometimes, as I walk with Jesus towards truth and reality and right-ness of seeing, I suddenly realize I'm bruised, scratched and grimy—as if a glade I’d just encountered morphed into thorny brambles, catching on my clothes, skin and hair. It reminds me that there’s another force at play in the here-and-now. One that’s in its throes of death but nevertheless struggling to take down with it whoever it can. Even as we live and breathe in the Kingdom, there is suffering in this here-and-now.
Other times, I find myself in a breathtakingly beautiful spot, a gorgeous echo or shadow of eternity. A witness of love. A breath of grace. A moment of clarity. A sharpening of sight. It is a moment that reminds me of the place where-I-am-but-still-going. These are like C.S. Lewis’ encounters with suprising moments of joy. Heh, there are times I want to cry out “Onward-and-upward!” like the children at the end of The Last Battle.
Unlike the residents of Amber, I can’t manipulate the shadows. I’m along for the ride, so to speak. I’m walking with Jesus, like (as in one of my favorite moments in the Gospels) he’s holding my hand as he leads me out of a village, listens to me declare with all I am that I want to see, and puts his hands on my eyes. But unlike the blind man 2000 years ago, my story isn’t ended. I’m still in the middle. It's as if I’m still seeing people walking around like trees. But oh-my-so-good-God, it is beautiful—and I want to see more.
(Image: Sun swirl by Bialy-Fox at flickr.com; book cover, Barnes & Noble)